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Canada Lunenburg potter denied federal job funding says it's needed now more than ever

12:41  18 june  2020
12:41  18 june  2020 Source:   cbc.ca

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A potter in Lunenburg, N.S., says she's left scrambling to find a way to run her small business this summer after being denied federal funding this late in the year.

Joan Bruneau owns Nova Terra Cotta Pottery and has been hiring a summer studio assistant since 1997. She said she's come to rely on the Canada Summer Jobs program the last several years to help pay a NSCAD University student a decent wage.

Bruneau usually finds out if she's approved for funding in April, but this year, she got an email on June 1 saying she wasn't successful and is now on a wait list.

"I've been really kind of holding my breath for the last month, waiting to see if I got funding or not and it's kind of the 11th hour and I'm feeling pressured that I should start to open my business, and I don't know how I can manage it," she said.

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The federal government made several temporary changes to the summer jobs program this year, including promising to cover 100 per cent of wages and extending the period employers can hire someone until February of next year.

But these changes also mean it's taking longer for some employers to receive funding, said Andy Fillmore, the member of parliament for Halifax.

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Instead of announcing successful applicants all at once, Fillmore said his office is following up with employers who applied pre-pandemic, to find out if they still require the funding and whether it should be given to someone else.

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"So depending on uptake and how employers we haven't heard from yet respond, there may be more money we can put back on the table. And so some of the people who've gotten the answer no today might actually get the answer yes in a month or two," Fillmore said.

But that's too late for Bruneau, who runs a seasonal business with just one staff member. She hoped to hire a studio assistant and open in June, but said she's pushed her opening day back until July.

She said the funding is needed now more than ever.

"I can't even afford to pay somebody without getting some kind of funding because it's such an insecure tourist season because we're only going to have local people travelling, probably," she said.

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Bruneau said she doesn't qualify for some other federal programs, like the 75 per cent wage subsidy, because she's only open for a few months of the year.

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Renea Babineau, administrative co-ordinator with the Lunenburg Board of Trade, said she's heard from at least 10 employers like Bruneau who typically get summer jobs funding but were denied this year.

She said many businesses in town depend on the federal program because it's broader than the provincial program of its kind, which requires employees to be post-secondary students.

"Some [employers] went out of their way to say because of this, I'm not going to be able to offer a summer position to anyone, so there's jobs being lost here because of this," Babineau said.

A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada said in an email that the government is spending $263 million in 2020, the same as last year, and that "the program will still be able to meet its target by creating up to 70,000 jobs."

The government has also put a focus on helping essential service businesses this year, the spokesperson said.

Fillmore said COVID-19 or not, there's never enough money to go around for the summer jobs program.

"Even though our government has doubled the amount of funding over the last four years for the program, we just can't meet demand at the current funding levels," he said. "Maybe it's time to look at how much the program is funded."

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